#StayHome: Discover the world of comics
It is not unusual for a child to be drawn to comics but, for me, it went a step further.
Growing up in the UAE, I never felt disconnected from what the West had to offer. This may have something to do with the fact that my father routinely travelled for work, and often combined these travels with short vacations for all of us. This exposure to the West in my formative years acquainted me with comics and films. It is not unusual for a child to be drawn to comics but, for me, it went a step further.
It was during this time that I was diagnosed with dyslexia. My world turned upside down, knowing that I had a problem with reading and writing. I felt defeated, and took refuge in comics. It worked, as it helped me learn to read. Seeing this, my mother began to buy more of these books for me. I was hooked - to the extent that I could not retreat. My interest in art only helped deepen my love for them even more. I felt my love for comics gave me an unusual moral strength too; no matter what challenges life would throw at me, I was prepared to take those on.
Today, as #StayHome becomes the need of the hour, it is also a good starting point to enter the world of comics. No, you do not really have to be 10 years old in order to fall in love with these characters. Comics have been around for nearly 70 years now, and the characters have grown up with us. While most of us watch a superhero film and convince ourselves that we know all that's needed to know about a superhero, I can assure you that's not true. If anything, some movies tweak the stories to make them more palatable to the masses. For instance, in Thor: Ragnarok, Hela is shown as Thor's sister; in the comics, however, she's Loki's daughter.
So, it's quite a big shift. Personally, I don't mind these changes as long as they suit the story arc. Tweaks are also necessary when they do one-off stories for major characters. Joaquin Phoenix's Joker does this rather well, lending a unique perspective to a character that would ordinarily be branded as a 'villain'. No wonder the film is now considered a masterpiece. Now, such creative licence - that pushes fans to think beyond the obvious - must not be frowned upon.
As someone who owns a comic bookstore, I can assure you that the UAE has a healthy appetite for comic books. Right before the #StayHome campaign began, people had been coming to my store to pick up reading material. Many of them hadn't read a comic book before, but were willing to give it a try. It's like you catch a glimpse of a show like Game of Thrones and tell yourself that you will never enjoy it, but end up becoming a fan. Ditto for comics. A lot of people start out with Batman, Spider-Man or other superheroes, who they have already seen on the big screen. When they pick up the books, they realise there is so much more to these superheroes. Reading a comic book is also a deeply visual experience due to all the art that goes into it. The comic world is gigantic, however, and before you deep-dive, you need to identify the characters that interest you.
There's enough material online for you to make up your mind about which comic character you want to start your journey with. There are also some big hits that you cannot miss when you trail a superhero's journey. For example, if you want to read up on Batman, the most highly recommended books would be The Dark Knight Returns, Batman Year One and Long Halloween. You simply cannot go wrong with these books that are nearly 20 years old. Other classic graphic novels that I would highly recommend are Watchmen, V For Vendetta, Maus, Sandman, Preacher and The Walking Dead. A lot of them have their own TV shows, so you already have a reference point to work with. While there's little contesting that Batman has a great story, you might also enjoy The Walking Dead; it's not the first comic series Robert Kirkman has worked on - he has Invincible and Outcast to his credit, too. With The Walking Dead, however, he's had a huge ace up his sleeve.
From a movies point of view, this was to be the year of superheroines, with films on Black Widow, Harley Quinn and Wonder Woman all set to release. You can get to know these characters better by reading the source material and watching TV shows and movies. While Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman has outshone Lynda Carter's, Harley Quinn was introduced to the DC universe through cartoons, not comics. She first appeared as Joker's girlfriend in Batman: The Animated Series in the 90s and began to command a popularity of her own - to a point that her character was introduced in the comics. Black Widow has oddly been a mystery in the Marvel universe, but there's enough backstory available on her too. Trust me, when I say that these women were bada**es way before they hit the screens.
While we are talking about reading comic books and watching the shows, let us also not forget that today, the digital platform has made comics so much more accessible. While many may be jumping onto the trend, the books - and I can say that for a lot of comic book fans - have a greater appeal. They also hold a collectible value. I have noticed that a lot of people who start with digital switch to the print version of comic books. That's howmuch they get drawn in. Also, it's useful to remember that at a time when you're self-isolating, you should definitely limit the hours spent looking at a screen.
Will comics ever be out of circulation? I don't think so. Ten years ago, barely anyone knew who Thanos was, and now he is one of the greatest villains of all time (and let's be honest, if you don't know who he is, then you do belong to that tiny percentage of people who haven't watched or read The Avengers). Today, films and television shows have popularised comics and ensured that the industry continues to grow. Many studios are working on new characters and that will mean we will soon be acquainted with a whole new lot of superheroes. Comic Cons have become events people keenly look forward to. Last year, Batman turned 80 - but, if you ask me, he and many of his ilk will continue to be ageless.
- As told to Anamika Chatterjee